Toxic In, Toxic Out

Beatitudes, Jesus, Spiritual Disciplines, Spiritual Growth

I was sitting on the porch swing of a cabin at a campground near Eunice, Louisiana. It was my first 24-hour retreat since being in full-time vocational ministry. And it was long overdue.

I was a couple years into my current role as a Lead Pastor and feeling somewhat overwhelmed. I was beginning to feel a desperate need for something different in my spiritual practices.

So I spent some time at this campground for the singular purpose of meeting with God. On that sunny afternoon, I sat on that swing praying with my Bible, a small notebook, and a bag of Doritos (Not the fun-size, mind you. The family-size).

As I sat there chomping on those Doritos, I thought to myself, “It’s 2 o’clock. If I keep eating these Doritos, I’m not going to have any room for dinner.”

And just as clear as can be, a stream of thoughts began to flow through my mind. I began to realize that in order for my spiritual health to change, I had to first change my “spiritual diet.” Just as one’s food intake is limited by stomach space, my spiritual appetite is also finite. If all I do is consume the spiritual junk food of the environment around me, there is not enough space in my soul to crave (let alone receive) the true nourishment of God’s living presence.

We tend to crave what we consume, and we tend to consume what we crave. If I wanted more of a craving for Jesus, I had to stop feeding on the cheap imitation.

The connection between diet and health is, of course, a given when it comes to physical fitness.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the obesity rate in America was “39.8% and affected about 93.3 million of US adults in 2015-2016.” Thankfully, these numbers seem to be declining. But we still have a long way to go.

Obesity and food addiction have an obvious effect on a wide-range of health-related issues. According to the CDC, “obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer that are some of the leading causes of preventable, premature death. The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the United States was $147 billion in 2008 US dollars; the medical cost for people who have obesity was $1,429 higher than those of normal weight.”

In addition, according to stateofobesity.org, “obesity is associated with job absenteeism, costing approximately $4.3 billion annually and with lower productivity while at work, costing employers $506 per obese worker per year.”

Simply put, the cost of unhealthy eating habits is enormous, both to one’s health and to the nation’s pocketbook(s).

I would submit that America’s problem with diet-related health issues is a perfect illustration of the damaging effects of our poor mental/spiritual diets.

Every single day through a wide array of sources (news media, cultural entertainment, social networking, personal interaction) we have access to potentially harmful “toxins” that (if we allow them to) can take root in our thought patterns and have damaging effects on ourselves and the people around us.

Amidst the poisonous spiritual junk food that permeates our culture and the unsatisfying cheap imitation of easy-cheesy, cotton candy Americanized Christianity, Jesus announces:

“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger…” (John 6:35).

So I invite you to ponder a couple all-important questions: What are you feeding onIn other words, what consumes your thought life? What are you drawing your sense of worth from? What do you get excited about? Angry about? Sad about? These questions will give you clues regarding your spiritual health.

Also (and this is the question I’m particularly burdened by at this moment)… Who are you allowing to feed into your life? To ask it in a more specific way, who are the preachers, thinkers, and close family & peers that you are allowing to form the way you think about God, yourself, and the world around you?

I can’t think of a nicer way to say this. So I’ll be straight-forward. Not all preaching is healthy. Not all theology is soul-nourishing. And not every friend and family member (even among fellow believers) is a life-giving influence.

Over the years, I have been grieved to witness friends and acquaintances who, for whatever reason, latch onto unhealthy, toxic, dualistic preaching, teaching, and personal influences. And the fruit that is produced looks very little like Jesus hanging on the cross praying for his executioners.

If we constantly feed on influences that are contaminated with self-righteousness and legalistic pride, a virus of religious arrogance will take root in our hearts and even begin spreading amongst the people around us.

So I encourage you to do some reflection. Think upon these questions. Once again…

What are you feeding on?

Who are you allowing to feed into your life?

To take it a bit further, do the preachers, teachers, & influencers in your life…

  • embody a life that is bathed in daily prayer and solitude with Jesus?
  • inspire you to crave more for God’s presence (and not just beat you down if you don’t)?
  • have the capacity to see God at work in other churches (or have they confined him to their own rigid box)?
  • empower you to live a contented life with Christ (or do they inject anxiety and insecurity into your spiritual life)?
  • encourage you to follow the Calvary way of living humbly, extending mercy, and forgiving your enemies?
  • stir inside of you a fascination with the life of Jesus Christ?
  • motivate you to live a more others-oriented life?

Feed on Jesus. Immerse yourself in the Gospels. Memorize the Beatitudes. Pray them every day. Embrace silence. Recognize God’s loving presence all around you. Get out of the house. Walk around the block a few times. Pray blessings over your neighbors. Pray blessings over your enemies.

And surround yourself with humble-hearted, life-giving people who are captivated with Jesus, the true Bread of Life, and share his burden to reconcile all things and all people to the Father.

We Follow a Crucified Lord

Christian history, Kingdom of God, Suffering

The ancient first-century Jews were looking for a Messiah who would liberate them from Roman oppression. For hundreds of years they had been ruled over by pagan, enemy nations. First, the Assyrians, then the Babylonians, then the Persians, then the Greeks, then the Syrians, then finally the Romans. And the Romans, in particular, had a tendency to be rather violent and oppressive.

And the Jewish people were sick and tired of it, to put it mildly. Over the course of several centuries, the prophets had promised them that God was going to raise up a Messiah, a coming King who would deliver them and establish his kingdom, reigning forever. And they were desperately longing for this Messiah.

The Six Most Influential Books I’ve Read Within the Last Decade

Books, Kingdom of God, Spiritual Growth

I’m a book geek. I won’t hide it, nor will I apologize for it.

Over the last few years, reading has played an indispensable role in helping me discover a richer, deeper, more satisfying life with Christ.

But it’s not just reading, per se. It’s learning what to read and who to read. Like digging for gold, you’ve got to know where to look.

So I figured I’d share some of the books and authors that have impacted me the most. There are many, many really good books that I could recommend, to be sure. But for me, these are in a separate category.

So here goes, in no particular order…